furetPositivists offer many criticisms of historical narrative, and François Furet was the leading critic.  First, Furet argued that narrative puts history into a sequence of events.  Historians cannot discuss two simultaneous events when writing in the narrative, therefore historians construct history.  Secondly, narrative is unscientific in focusing upon subject matters which it characteristically treats as unique.  Furet argued that historians should write about classes of events like wars, revolutions, or famines.  The purpose of such study would be to find a theoretical understanding of the material.  Third, narrative historians are dependent on literary sources.  Literary sources only contain the recollections of the original writers who were the elites of society because they were literate so historians have no concept of how the lower classes really lived.  Fourth, narrative history is passive in the sense of not being problem-oriented, and history should be used to solve the problems of today.  Lastly, narratives are always geared towards a final result because they are written like novels.  Sometimes historians even look into details that seem to have no significance at all, and they come up with some great secondary meaning that does not really exist.

Although Furet’s criticisms are legitimate, Idealists remain confident that they can write valid history for four reasons.  First, since history comes to historians in story form, historians can write history the same way.  Second, narrative and causation offer explanations for historical events.  Historians can sustain continuity by offering setting, context, and necessary conditions.  Third, narrative aids historical synthesis.  Historians achieve an aerial view of history by synthesizing sources to gain the whole picture.  Lastly, narrative helps historical reality because any set of events can be presented any number of ways.  History is never finished because historians always find slivers that interest them.

– Hannah S. Bowers

Advertisements